Two War Critic Soldiers Killed in Iraq

Yance Gray and Omar Mora co-wrote a controversial op-ed about the war.

February 12, 2009, 9:04 AM

Sept. 12, 2007 — -- The last words of the op-ed written by seven soldiers serving in Iraq were courageous and poignant.

"We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through."

Sadly, that mission came to an end for two of those soldiers just three weeks after that editorial was published in The New York Times.

Sgt. Omar Mora, 28, and Staff Sgt. Yance T. Gray, 26, two of the authors of "The War as We Saw It," were killed in Baghdad Monday when the five-ton cargo truck they were riding in overturned.

Another of the authors, Staff Sgt. Jeremy Murphy, was shot in the head while the group was working on the article.

The controversial Aug. 19 editorial gained international attention for its skepticism about the American war effort: "To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched."

The news of their deaths arrived as Gen. David Petraeus was finishing his testimony to Congress about the progress of the military's surge in Iraq.

Several senators invoked the editorial during the debate. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) read from the op-ed and Sen. Chuck Hagel referenced it while challenging Petraeus.

"By the way, I assume you read The New York Times piece two weeks ago -- seven NCOs in Iraq, today, finishing up 15-month commitments. Are we going to dismiss those seven NCOs? Are they ignorant? They laid out a pretty different scenario, general, ambassador, from what you're laying out today."

Gray, who grew up in Montana, is survived by his wife, Jessica, and infant daughter, Ava.

Mora, who is survived by his wife, Christa, and 5-year-old daughter, Jordan, was expected to come home to Texas City, Texas, in November, his brother, Roger Mora, said.

Roger Mora, a former airman in the naval service, last talked to his brother about three months ago. "He was under a lot of stress, tired and trying to process his thoughts," Mora told "He was dealing with the wear and tear of our servicemen and women."

Mora said that when his brother joined the Army in 2004, he begged him not to join the infantry. "He liked to do things that his brother advised him against," he said, adding that Omar wanted to be a Ranger. Omar Mora didn't qualify for the Rangers, because he was not a U.S. citizen but a legal resident born in Ecuador.

Roger said he's proud of his brother and his decision to help write the editorial. "I've always been proud of him. When you read it, it's not stating what people want to hear but it's what needed to be said. As immigrants, one of the things we love about this country is the ability to express our thoughts."

Roger said his brother never mentioned experiencing any backlash from the military after the editorial was published.

Mora's mother wants the Army to explain his death to her.

"I want to know all the details of how he died. I want to know the truth," Olga Capetillo told The Associated Press. "I don't understand how so many people could die in that accident. How could it be so bad?"

Yance Gray's mother, Karen Gray, told The New York Times that her son always had a strong sense of duty. "My son was a soldier in his heart from the age of 5. ... He loved what he was doing."

On his MySpace page, Gray described his desire to meet past leaders, including Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, John F. Kennedy and Winston Churchill. "I have so many questions for those leaders in our time of need," he wrote.

But he emphasized that his wife was his real hero, calling her "the strongest woman I know." And he added that one of his goals was "becoming a great father."

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